Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War

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9780452283169: Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War

"Before Vietnam, the truth of war, of honor and courage, was obscure to many of us. Like Jim Thompson, I learned the truth in war. Like Jim, I discovered in Vietnam that faith in myself proved to be the least formidable strength I possessed when confronting organized inhumanity on a greater scale than I conceived possible. In prison, I learned that faith in myself alone was ultimately no match for the cruelty that human beings could devise when they where unencumbered by respect for the God-given dignity of man. This is the lesson many Americans, including Jim, learned in prison. It is, perhaps, the most important lesson we have ever learned. Jim Thompson kept the faith. This is his story." (From Senator John McCain's foreword)

On March 26, 1964, barely four months after arriving in Vietnam, Special Forces Captain Floyd "Jim" Thompson was captured by the Vietcong. He would spend the next nine years in jungle cages and dark prison cells, attempting escape five times, and surviving torture, disease, and starvation. When he was finally released in 1973, he returned to a nation he no longer knew-and to a family that no longer knew him.

Thompson's epic story-and that of his wife and children, who also paid dearly for his sacrifice-is brought to life in this searing reconstruction of one man's torturous journey through the unspeakable horrors of war and its aftermath. Weaving together interviews with Thompson and his family; comments from friends, fellow soldiers, and other POWs; and excerpts from service records, medical reports, and intelligence briefings, journalist Tom Philpott creates a moving and compelling portrait of a complex and heroic figure. Combining the rich historical detail of Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie with the pathos of a James Jones novel, Glory Denied is a monumental work of oral history and a much-needed reminder of how far we have come-and how far we have yet to travel-in understanding one of the defining moments of our generation.

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Review :

Army officer Jim Thompson's horrific experience in a series of North Vietnamese prisons was nasty and brutish--but definitely not short. He was held as a prisoner of war for nearly nine years, longer than any other American POW. His treatment was torturous: "I was put into a horizontal cage maybe two feet wide, two feet high, and five feet long. There I was kept for four months, chained hand and feet." And sometimes he was just plain tortured: "I sat there with a pen in hand as they shouted at me to write," he recalls of a time his captors tried to make him issue a statement condemning the American war effort. "Periodically they hit me with bamboo. Not hard enough to knock me unconscious or to break the skin. Just enough to hurt. They kept at it for eight, ten, twelve hours a day." (He eventually gave in, and signed a statement.)

The irony is that Thompson's life improved little upon his return to the United States. His wife had taken up with another man, his family fell apart, he drank to excess, and his son was convicted of murder. Readers will be at once tempted and reluctant to call Thompson a hero--tempted because of how much he suffered for serving his country and for his numerous escape attempts, but reluctant because Thompson was himself responsible for much of the pain he brought on himself and his family following his return.

Military journalist Tom Philpott has produced an oddly fascinating book about Thompson's ordeal. Glory Denied is not a piece of narrative nonfiction, but an oral history. It tells Thompson's story through the words of Thompson and those who knew him. Readers who want a more uplifting POW story may want to try Faith of Our Fathers by Senator John McCain (who contributes a foreword to Glory Denied), yet Philpott's book may come closer to capturing the agony so many Americans continue to associate with Vietnam. --John J. Miller

About the Author :

Tom Philpott's weekly column, "Military Update," appears in more than fifty daily newspapers in the United States and overseas. Glory Denied is his first book.

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